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Vendors Demand a Hearing at City Hall : Business: Frustrated by the council's years of delays in debating a proposal to legalize street sales, protesters pack a committee meeting. But action is postponed.


About 100 frustrated street vendors packed a City Council committee meeting Wednesday, asking that council members set a date for a hearing on a proposed ordinance that would legalize street vending.

The vendors, many of them women carrying their children, picketed outside City Hall before flooding the committee room. Several carried signs with such slogans as " Queremos pagar taxes "--We want to pay taxes--and "Police: Work with us, not against us."

"This ordinance takes into account everyone's needs--businesses, vendors, residents," said Angelica Garza, spokeswoman for the 500-member Asociacion de Ambulantes Vendedores, or Street Vendors Assn. "The association is definitely tired of waiting."

The vendors have been fighting for six years to legalize street vending in Los Angeles, the only major city in the United States that outlaws such street sales. Vending is a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine, and police have made thousands of arrests in recent years.

An ordinance to legalize vending was proposed 2 1/2 years ago, but has become ensnared in the City Hall bureaucracy. The law would set up vending districts in several areas of the city, require a vendor to buy a license and insurance, and require compliance with health regulations.

The ordinance has been debated by various council committees and been scheduled for a vote by the full council on several occasions, only to be delayed for one reason or another.

The vendors had expected the Public Works Committee to vote on the ordinance Wednesday, but action was postponed indefinitely after Chairwoman Rita Walters asked the city attorney's office to revise the proposed law. Walters, who represents South-Central, was concerned it did not adequately address the concerns of some business owners and residents who might not want vendors in their areas.

"I understand that it's been a long time," Walters told the vendors. "We are working on it diligently."

But the vendors said their livelihoods are hurt by each postponement.

"We are gravely disappointed that once again the review of the ordinance has been postponed. Every time we come to City Hall, we miss a day's work or income," said association secretary Richard Cardenas.

Walters said she could not set a hearing date because she did not know when the revisions would be completed and because she would no longer be on the committee after Aug. 16. Under committee assignments announced Wednesday, the new chairman will be San Fernando Valley Councilman Richard Alarcon.

During the meeting, representatives of organizations expressed support for the vendors.

Joe Sanchez, founder of the Mexican American Grocers Assn. and a board member of the California Grocers Assn., told committee members that 75% of the grocery chain markets and independent grocers support the legalization of street vending.

"It is good for our businesses," said Sanchez, whose father sold food on the streets of Albuquerque, N.M. "These vendors are pulling themselves up by their own bootstraps."

Alice Lane, board member of the Al Wooten Jr. Heritage Center in South Los Angeles, said the vendors should be supported because they want to make an honest living. "These people don't have a gun in their hand. They don't sell narcotics," she said.

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